A year ago, the Indianapolis Colts had the first overall pick in the 2012 National Football League draft.
It was a foregone conclusion that the Colts would select former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the selection. While Indianapolis front office and player personnel officials certainly had to do their due diligence in preparing for the draft, the Colts find themselves this year in a bit different situation.
The team will have the 24th overall pick in the first round, which is a double-edged sword. Indianapolis picks lower in the round due to a successful season. But the pool of available can’t-miss talent isn’t quite as plentiful as drafting earlier in the round.
That’s the situation second-year general manager Ryan Grigson finds himself in as the 2013 National Football Scouting Combine got underway Thursday at Lucas Oil stadium.
Instead of having the pick of the litter, Grigson now is looking for the best player available regardless of position or perceived team needs. Also, last year Indianapolis was in the middle of a massive roster shakeup. This time around, not so much.
“It’s a bit different. You could say that,” Grigson admitted during a press concerned with the league’s media. “The focus is still the same. Just improve every day. It’s still the same mindset. Just trying to get better and stay within the vision of going to the Super Bowl.”
The Colts informed outside linebacker Dwight Freeney and wide receiver Austin Collie last Friday that the team would not try to re-sign them when their contracts expire on March 12.
Potential free agents — such as punter Pat McAfee, defensive end Fili Moala and cornerback Jerraud Powers — might be back next season. That remains to be seen.
“We’ve reached out to the guys on our team that we would like to re-sign. I’ve sat down with the players and tried to explain the situations to them. I try to put as many cards on the table as I can, try to give them a glimpse of what direction we’re headed,” Grigson said.
“But we’re still going through the process. That’s why we’re here [at the combine]. There’s college and pro players that we’re delving into daily.”
The Colts were cash-strapped, salary cap wise, last year. This year, though, Indianapolis’ cap number is reportedly $43.427 million, giving the team deeper pockets to go shopping.
“The cap gives us good flexibility. It’s a good spot to be in,” Grigson explained. “It’s nice to go shopping a little bit.”
As for the decision to part ways with Freeney and Collie, the Colts GM said that the time was right to make the moves.
“Felt with our vision moving forward, [Freeney and Collie] weren’t part of it,” Grigson said.
• Arians returns to Indy — Former Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians made a triumphant return to Lucas Oil Stadium Thursday morning.
Arians, who was named as the NFL’s 2012 Coach of the Year in recognition of the job he did as Indianapolis’ interim coach last season, was hired as the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals on Jan. 17.
“Probably every time I came [to the combine as an NFL assistant coach], I wondered what it would be like [to attend an head coach]. It’s fun to be here with your peers and to finally have that title,” he said prior to his official meeting with the media. “It’s very gratifying.”
Arians spent only one season with the Colts as offensive coordinator under head coach Chuck Pagano. But when Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in early October, he was handed the additional duties as the team’s interim coach.
Indianapolis went 9-3 with Arians in charge and the Colts wound up with an 11-5 regular-season record, earning a wild card playoff berth in the process. The job that he did in a difficult situation attracted the interest of several NFL teams that had head coaching vacancies.
“I’ve always really enjoyed [coming to the combine]. I used to love recruiting when I was [coaching] in college. Evaluating the guys. It’s always been a big part of what I like to do as a coach,” Arians said.
He’s assembled a pretty good coaching staff, including bringing former Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore out of a brief retirement. The two previously worked together in Kansas City and Indianapolis.
“Tom Moore is one of the greatest teachers that I have ever been around. I was excited that he decided to join our coaching staff,” Arians voiced.
As for returning to Indianapolis, albeit in a new role, he said that he’s trying to get accustomed to not being with the Colts anymore.
“My head’s still spinning. Another week, another challenge. I’m living out of a suitcase right now,” Arians. “But nothing will ever change or take away the memories from last year because it was so special. Just everything that went on. The relationships. Great group of players. That rookie class was special.
“The whole thing that happened with Chuck [Pagano]. I am just grateful for the opportunity [to fill in as the interim coach]. This time last year I was retired. But it was meant to be. Everything happens for a reason. I truly believe that.”
• Telesco also back — Ex-Colts vice-president of player personnel Tom Telesco also spoke to the media Thursday. Telesco was hired as San Diego’s general manager on Jan. 9.
“I know I can refer back to watching Ryan [Grigson] as a first-time general manager work with a first-time head coach in Chuck [Pagano],” he said, referring to new Chargers head coach Mike McCoy. Pagano and McCoy were both veteran NFL assistant coaches before earning head coaching positions.
“I’ve relied on that a lot already actually. Ryan makes great football decisions. He listens to people around him. He has a great eye for talent.”
Telesco is a protege’ of former Colts vice-president Bill Polian and worked with Grigson, the reigning NFL Executive of the Year, last season.